© San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation (OHP)

Advancing the SDGS through Cultural Heritage


San Antonio

Main actors

City Government

Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region


Ongoing since 2020

The purpose of the City of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) is to safeguard the cultural, economic, and environmental sustainability that preserves San Antonio’s unique sense of place, economic competitiveness, and authenticity. This is accomplished through creative approaches and partnerships that provide learning opportunities and services to the local community.
Motivated to address issues of accessibility, equity, and sustainability in the development process, the role of the Office has expanded to include opportunities to educate and engage the community about sustainable development practices through social events, running tours, hands on training, and DIY instruction.

This study case is based on a good practice provided by the City of San Antonio and promoted by the UCLG Committee on Culture. The original document can be found here.


Sustainable Development Goals

End poverty in all its forms everywhereEnsure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all agesEnsure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for allPromote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for allBuild resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovationReduce inequality within and among countriesMake cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainableTake urgent action to combat climate change and its impactsPromote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levelsStrengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
San Antonio, United States
Size and population development
San Antonio, the second-largest city in Texas, had a population of 1,444,120 as of July 1, 2023, showing a growth of 0.21% per year since 2020. The city is known for its significant Hispanic majority, which comprises 63.9% of its residents. The San Antonio-New Braunfels Metropolitan Statistical Area is the third largest in Texas and the 24th-largest in the United States.
Population composition
San Antonio’s population is nearly evenly split between males (49.66%) and females (50.34%). The population distribution by age shows that 24.1% are under 18 years, and those 65 and over represent 12.8%. The median age in the city is 33.9 years. The ethnic composition is diverse, with a 65.8% Hispanic majority, 22.6% non-Hispanic White, 6.6% Black, 3.0% Asian, 0.9% American Indian, and 0.1% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.
Main functions
San Antonio is a major city known for its historical significance, including the Alamo and its Spanish missions. It’s also a hub for military, healthcare, tourism, and oil and gas industries. The city's economy is greatly boosted by tourism, In 2023 the city recorded over 32 million visitors.
Main industries / business
San Antonio’s economy is diverse, with a focus on military, health care, financial services, oil and gas, and tourism. The city benefits from a strong business environment and a vibrant job market supported by tourism, which contributes significantly to local employment and economic impact.
Sources for city budget
San Antonio’s local government revenue comes from a mix of property, sales, and other taxes; fees and charges; and transfers from federal and state governments, similar to other major cities in America.
Political structure
The political structure of San Antonio includes elected officials such as the Mayor and City Council members. As a part of Texas, it is represented by two U.S. Senators and multiple members in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Administrative structure
The city's administrative structure is composed of various departments managed by officials appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council. The city works to promote public participation in governance through its organisational structure.
San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the United States of America and second most populous city in the state of Texas. Approximately 3% of the city (roughly 13,000 parcels) is designated as historic. Given the diverse demographic of the 32 local historic districts, many people require assistance with the skills and resources needed to maintain their homes. 
The Office of Historic Preservation became a standalone city department in 2008, and the following year the City Council adopted the Strategic Historic Preservation Plan (SHPP), developed with strong community input and buy in. Despite San Antonio’s long history of leadership in historic preservation, the plan was the first adopted by the City Council. The plan made recommendations in six major areas: city planning, zoning, economic development, historic resources, incentives, and education and advocacy. One of the immediate accomplishments was the update of the City’s Unified Development Code related to cultural heritage. As a result, San Antonio has one of the strongest preservation ordinances in the USA.
The OHP programming outlined in this community initiative serves to advance goals of job creation, workforce development, affordable housing, and community resilience tied to cultural identity
With 20 full time staff members, the City of San Antonio OHP works collaboratively amongst diverse preservation practice areas, including living heritage and cultural initiatives, design review, and survey and designation. 
Concurrent initiatives include:
  • Living Heritage Symposium, to develop best practices of cultural and intangible heritage
  • Living Heritage Trades Academy, a pilot school to build and sustain a workforce skilled in traditional crafts and historic building trades
  • Rehabber Club, a network dedicated to the revitalisation of San Antonio’s historic buildings
  • REHABARAMA, an event where volunteers complete work to 20 homes in a single day
  • Historic Homeowner Fair, educates homeowners about stewardship of their historic homes
  • S.T.A.R., a partnership between the Office of Historic Preservation, the UTSA College of Architecture, San Antonio College, and local contractors to provide minor exterior home repairs and maintenance to homeowners within local historic districts
  • Climate Heritage, a coordinated approach to climate action that leverages heritage values to support the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
San Antonio continues to incorporate the SDGs into the municipality’s organisational goals and supports OHP’s efforts to leverage cultural heritage to this end. As reports such as the Affordable Housing Study commissioned by OHP are presented and adopted, City Council is providing support for implementation of the recommendations. Additionally, OHP is currently developing an app to create a virtual marketplace for salvaged goods. Future goals include the following:
  • Expand multimedia content and online presence.
  • Grow Legacy Business Program to include at least 50 additional businesses.
  • Promote storytelling and cultural mapping to identify intangible heritage, places of significance, and other potential Cultural Heritage Districts.

The lead agency for the project is the City of San Antonio. The project is supported by a number of internal departments and external partners.

Impacts on the local government
The City endeavours to protect the quality of life, pride of place, and sense of community by preserving both local landmarks and the eclectic and unique mix of residential and commercial architecture.
Impact on culture and on cultural actors
OHP programming promotes cultural heritage and preservation efforts as economic, cultural, and environmental sustainability.
Impact on the territory and population
The city supports local, family-owned businesses that contribute to local culture and authenticity through programs like the Legacy Business initiative. Public outreach activities including training, events, resource fairs. Older and historic houses provide a quarter of affordable housing units in the city and that number continues to grow. Providing skilled trades training and jobs helps to preserve those critical affordable housing units.
In the fiscal year 2019, OHP:
  • Reached over 11,000 people through department activities
  • Hosted the 3rd annual REHABARAMA with over 300 volunteers, students, and contractors working on 20 homes
  • Completed five projects at the Kelso House Learning Lab through the first inaugural partnership with the Power of Preservation Foundation and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

When San Antonio approved its first Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in October 2019, heritage values were explicitly incorporated throughout the plan. The City committed to producing a Climate Heritage Strategic Plan, which recognises that climate change will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable community members and intentionally addresses this disparity through a climate equity framework. Each strategy implemented through the plan must be evaluated by an equity screening tool, which includes a cultural preservation theme. OHP is also currently leading a deconstruction and salvage policy initiative, which aims to bolster a local circularity of building materials, divert landfill waste, and support local repair and maintenance efforts.

OHP works with other city departments to map the SDG targets and goals the city is meeting or working to meet and to create a toolkit for other cities to complete the same analysis.

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Jakki Mann
Melbourne , Australia

Jakki Mann

Individual | Content Curator

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